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Archive for the ‘Endurance’ Category

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” Philippians 3:13b-15a (NIV)

I must admit I find it easier to look back than to look forward.

I suppose I tend to be a more of an introspective, reflective and reactive person rather than a forward-thinking, proactive individual. As I approach my sixtieth birthday on the 8th of January 2014 here are some of my reflections at this fairly advanced stage of life and a few aspirations for the future.

My natural reaction to turning sixty is, “I never realized it would be this difficult.”

Over the Christmas break we enjoyed a visit from my son who now lives in Holland and his new wife, our first daughter-in-law.  During the few days they were here at our home in Ireland she asked if she could see our wedding photos, which my wife happily dug out for her to browse through. I found I was taking a closer look at them myself. Our wedding was over thirty-eight years ago and it’s fascinating to see what we looked like as a pair of twenty-one-year-olds making serious life choices on that day in 1975.

I was struck by several things in our wedding photos. Obviously, at the time we looked much younger than we do now, and thinner too – at least I did! But I was captivated by one thing and that was how “happy” I appeared to look in the pictures.

Now that I’m turning sixty, I never realized at the time of my wedding that it would be so difficult to maintain a happy, positive attitude throughout life.

I think the potential is always there for us to be happy and positive, but all the pain and suffering in life takes its toll on us, at least it did on me. Even though our marriage started out well, we actually had a car accident on our honeymoon that was my fault because I didn’t take time to check the brake fluid on the old car we were driving!

During the course of our marriage, we have had many joyous times and abundant blessings, but we have experienced almost every family problem and tragedy one can imagine. We have had a blessed life and marriage, but not without major challenges and suffering. From parents and siblings dying to having all sorts of accidents and other issues with our six children through the years we have had our share of hard times.

I never realized how much these things would cumulatively affect my life and attitudes but I also never realized how they would shape and mature me either.

I also never realized that it would be so difficult to maintain reasonably good spiritual and emotional health and physical fitness over the long haul. For a season of life when we were raising our children and also heavily involved in ministry and church life, my personal fitness regime went totally by the wayside. I also let my emotional life get into free fall as problems seemed to mount up one after the other and my responses to them did more harm than good.

I never realized that caring for myself in appropriate ways would actually be a gift to my family and others around me who might actually benefit from a healthier “me.” Thankfully over the past few years I’ve begun to do better about appropriate “self-care” in most respects – spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically. I never realized that this would be such a vital priority and that I would have to intentionally work at it!

I also never realized that being faithful to my wife, my children and my calling would require so much effort and would require so much of me. I think for a season of life I grew weary in many respects and perhaps lost focus of what was most important. Seeds of becoming a workaholic started to bring up some shoots. I had few dreams but only hopes of recognition from peers or those I considered “significant authorities” whom I felt had to approve of me and my work in order for me to feel good about myself.

I’m learning now to be much more process oriented and see growth as a lifelong project that we were designed to enjoy along the way, even with its suffering and apparent setbacks.

Going forward I think I’m trying to live a much simpler, more joyful and expectant life. I want to return, in some respects, to the man with the happy smile in my wedding photos. In order for that to happen I see a few important truths I will have to live by going forward –

  • Gratitude must become a daily reality and be as natural as breathing
  • Life will continue to be challenging and suffering will be part of the process
  • Listening to God and learning from Him and those He places in our path is vital for our health and growth. We were never intended to travel the road alone
  • Proper self-care is not only a gift to ourselves but also to our loved ones

Recently I had some extended time to talk with a friend of mine who has been a caring pastor of a growing congregation for over thirty years. We both agreed that in the church we find “grumpy old men” and we both agreed that we don’t want to become one of them.

I never realized how dependent I was on the grace of God Almighty to avoid becoming grumpy as I age and how completely I would have to trust and cooperate with Him.

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“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” James 1:2-3 New Living Translation

I must admit that I don’t take to adversity very well. My normal reaction to the challenges of life that come my way is often, “WHY is this happening to me?” or  “What did I do to deserve this?”

Some adversity in life comes suddenly and without warning. Like an unexpected accident or the sudden death of a close family member. Sometimes we bring adversity on ourselves by making poor choices or even facing a challenge by taking appropriate risk or exercising courage.

Just recently I’ve been taking a weekly half-hour swimming class which is meant to develop a higher level of fitness by swimming vigorous laps around the pool wearing fins. This class in “Fin Fitness” has taught me a lot about facing resistance and developing strength and endurance.

Each week,  before class begins I start wondering why I agreed put myself through the gauntlet. Everyone who has been involved in the class sees the benefits because the exercise is so intense. The small group of my classmates are younger, fitter and better swimmers than yours truly and it’s a huge challenge keeping up with them  – a task I’ve been unable to accomplish so far.

When the class is over and relief sets in I’m joyful that I stuck it out. I then experience the benefits that come from facing the challenge and finding the endurance to persevere.  Hopefully strength, fitness, flexibility and endurance will be physical benefits I will enjoy not to mention the emotional well being that is part of the process.

Whatever the test or trial might be I often wonder if our state of mind is the critical factor in it all. Is there a mindset that will help us on a day to day basis that will carry us through as we courageously face  the challenges that come our way?

In the book of James in the New Testament, the author makes some very startling statements, especially about trials and suffering. One of the better known verses, quoted above, instructs the reader to actually consider trials and tests as joyful opportunities for personal growth.

James does say that if our faith is tested, endurance has a chance to grow. When you consider it, in many areas of life we don’t get very far without meeting resistance head on.

Whatever challenge you may be facing today take a close look at your attitude toward it.  Remember that James is addressing followers of Jesus in the first century. Jesus Christ is the one who faced the adversity of the Cross and all that it entailed, yet came through victorious. Not only is He our Savior but our example of facing adversity courageously and with an eternal perspective.

 Although I don’t like to admit it, in a world full of adversity there’s probably nothing that will build strength and endurance except facing resistance with a positive attitude and an eternal perspective.  

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